Whether you’re brand new to working out or are returning from a long hiatus, mastering the fundamentals is key to successful progression in the gym. So put down that barbell and slowly back away.

“A beginner should always focus on technique first before even touching heavy weights,” says Jim Smith, C.P.P.S., owner of Diesel Strength and Conditioning. “Adding weight before you’re ready has a cascade effect that results in poor range of motion and technique. It makes the movement fall apart.”  

But that doesn’t mean you can’t still get in a great workout. Smith notes that improving your technique, body positioning, and range of motion across a variety of basic movement patterns— including horizontal and vertical presses and pulls, hinge movements, squats, and core work— should be your priority. When you’re just starting out, they’re better indicators of progress than how many steel plates you can lift.  

Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals—using newbie-friendly equipment like dumbbells, trap bars, and your own body weight—you’ll be ready to move on to heavier, more complex moves.  “You’ve got to earn the right to put a barbell in your hands,” Smith says.  

Here, Smith outlines the best moves for all the seven movement patterns mentioned at left, plus an extra squat variation, because everyone needs solid wheels:

  • Perform all eight moves in order (for each week), completing all the prescribed sets and reps for one before moving on to the next.
  • Do this three times per week, resting a day in between each session, for four weeks.
  • If you’re feeling up to it, pick a couple of accessory moves (see last slide), depending on what you want to work on, to do after your workout.